Then, he decided to challenge his discharge, to try to get it upgraded to honorable, based on new understanding of PTSD and a 2014 memo from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that said such requests should be given “liberal consideration.”
Manker struck out on his first attempt. So he contacted Yale Law School’s legal clinic for veterans, which agreed to help.
His class-action suit was filed in early 2018 in federal court in Connecticut. This month, his lawyers and attorneys for the Navy agreed to a settlement that — once approved by a judge — will change Manker’s discharge to honorable and will lay out a path for other veterans with PTSD to overturn their own “bad paper.”
The settlement comes as other-than-honorable discharges have, over time, been on the rise. Since 2001, more than 2.7 million military personnel have served on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about 15% of them left with less-than-honorable discharges, according to the lawsuit. That’s far more than the 7% of Vietnam-era vets and 2% of World War II-era veterans who got such discharges.
Under the preliminary settlement, which would affect those who served in the Navy, Marines and Navy and Marine reserves, the Navy will automatically reconsider certain discharge upgrade decisions made since March 2, 2012. And vets whose discharge decisions were made between Oct. 7, 2001 and March 2, 2012 will be granted the right to try to get them changed.
The Navy also will allow video hearings, making it easier for vets who can’t afford to travel to Washington to make their case in person.
The Navy declined to comment.
A video hearing on final approval of Manker’s settlement is set for Dec. 16.
Blake Shultz, a recent Yale law grad who’s worked on the case for nearly three years, says it has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of veterans with undiagnosed PTSD, some who ended up homeless or with criminal records after leaving the military.
“This settlement is a small but very important first step,” Shultz says.
Manker plans to continue using his legal skills. But he’ll also tap his newly won GI Bill for music school, starting in January.
In Iraq, Manker promised himself that, when he got home, he’d learn to play the guitar. He says he found solace in playing the instrument and formed a rock band called Neonmoms.
“I’m thankful that I can hang an honorable discharge on my wall,” Manker says, “and that, when I die, there will be a flag folded in my honor.”